Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day 33 -- Groveland, CA to Boulder Creek, CA

We didn’t linger in Groveland in the morning.  We headed out and got on the road.  We had a long drive ahead and wanted to beat the Friday Night traffic over Highway 17.  And, we did.  We hit a little traffic but nothing too bad.

We called Greg’s Mom and arranged to meet them at the transit station in Scotts Valley to pick up Ruby.  She was beside herself with excitement to see us.  And, kept running back to check all the corners of the FMC for Gage.  I’m sure she’ll be surprised to see him when I pick him up on Monday.

It felt good to be home!  Our house looked GREAT!  (Thanks to Greg’s amazing mother who tidiedeverything up before we got home!)

We're Home!

Another trip over . . . Wonder what we’ll do next year!

Day 32 - June Lake, CA to Groveland, CA

The big challenge of this trip happened on this day.  Tioga Pass -- 9960ft. The FMC hasn’t done it before and Greg was concerned that it go well.  We left June Lake in the late morning.  Stopped to fill up with gas at the Mobil Station in Lee Vining.  We got lunch too.  This is no ordinary Mobil Station . . . They have a gourmet eatery on the premises -- The Whoa Nellie Deli.  With all of us fueled up and ready to go, we unhitched and I headed up the pass first in my car (to find a spot to hitch up again before we got into Yosemite).  I really didn’t know how the FMC would do -- we knew it would make it up but with what kind of grace.

708 at Tioga Pass (~10,000 ft)

Greg has three options for going uphill -- 60 mph in drive, 45 in 2nd, or 25 in 1st.  We figured this hill would be a 25 mph hill.  And, it was.  Thankfully, the air was cool (thank you high altitude) and I only waited about the top for about 5 minutes or so.  We hitched up the car and drove through the gate to Yosemite.

The reason we had to hitch up is that we have an annual pass for the National Parks -- going through separately would have cost us $25 but going through hitched up was free!  We bought a new pass at Mesa Verde for the new year (our pass from last year was good until the end of June for this year) and have already used it enough to pay for it.  If you are doing a road trip, an annual pass for the National Parks is a GREAT deal!

Snowball fight in July!

We drove the amazingly beautiful drive through Yosemite -- which for us is something of a commuter road to the Bay Area from my folks’ house.  We decided to stop outside the park to camp.  There were a few forest service campgrounds but none that would work for us so we pressed on to Groveland where we stayed at the Yosemite Pines RV Park.  We got a fantastic site in the shade -- didn’t even need the AC.  Greg took Ruth swimming twice.  We had Ruth’s birthday request dinner -- all appetizers.  We had bbq meatballs, Liza’s queso dip, and Greg’s Chipotle dip.  YUM!

708 at Groveland, CA

Day 31 -- June Lake, CA

#708 in June Lake, CA

We moved the FMC to my parents yard for our last day/night in June Lake.  Mom and Ruthie and I had a girls’ day out in Mammoth.  We had coffees at a great little coffee shop there -- Ruth had iced hot chocolate which was delicious!  Then we went shopping at the Van Heusen and Bass Outlets which were having redonkulous sales -- 70% off and then another 30% off -- which seems like it might mean free but it doesn’t quite mean free!

My girls - Mom & Ruth

We hit the grocery store next and got food for dinner and a birthday cake for Ruth.

While we were gone, Gage and Igor, my stepdad, had gone kayaking at Mono Lake, a huge salt water lake.  They got back shortly after we did -- all covered in salt spray.  Gage’s hair looked fine but it was stiff!  Back into the shower for him.

Osprey pair on nest

We hung around the rest of the afternoon and evening.  It was decided that Gage would stay and hike with Bumpa a lot.  They are heading to Hawaii on Tuesday so I’d be able to pick him up from them on their way to San Francisco.

Ruthie really enjoyed her birthday cake!

We celebrated Ruth's birthday in June Lake

Day 30 -- Alamo, NV to June Lake, CA -- Ruth’s Birthday!

It was actually chilly at the National Wildlife Refuge when we woke up that morning.  We had a good breakfast -- pancakes!  To celebrate Ruth’s 13th birthday!  We can’t believe our little girl is a teenager now!

Packing up was easy -- all we’d unpacked was chairs and the telescope.

We headed off with growing excitement.  We were going to drive the Extraterrestrial Highway today!  When we made the turn, we stopped to get a photo -- you don’t get experiences like this everyday.

This highway has been designated The Extraterrestrial Highway because it travels close to the infamous Area 51.  We kept our eyes peeled but never saw any signs of alien activity along the road.

Scenery along Extraterrestrial Highway

Scenery along Extraterrestrial Highway

More scenery on Extraterrestrial Highway

The center of the Extraterrestrial Highway is The Lil’A’Le’Inn (http://littlealeinn.com/) in Rachel, NV.  You pull in and you can see all sorts of alien influences here.  Inside, there is a bar (keep the kids out of the “red zone”) and a cafe and lots and lots of merchandise.  Gage got a shirt that says he works at Area 51 but he can’t talk about it and a pin that says he’s authorized to use deadly force.  The people there were SO nice and SO friendly.  We really enjoyed our visit with them.

708 at Lil'A'Le'Inn

We headed off again -- our next destination was Tonopah, NV.  (http://www.tonopahnevada.com/).  Tonopah is a Silver town.  We found a good lunch spot but weren’t thrilled with the RV park we saw.  We decided to press on.  Our next idea was Benton Hot Springs where you have a hot spring right at your campsite.  We kept driving through the desert, with more and more high passes.

Boundary Peak, Nevada

Eventually, we unhitched and the FMC was able to negotiated the passes more easily.  The best road in the world is the road between Benton and Highway 395.  It’s one of those desert roads where they just paved what they found in a straight line.  Hills . . . Pave over them.  Valleys . . . Pave over them.  The result is the Benton Bumps.  A series of tummy-tingling bumps that are better when done at high speed and with the knowledge that there could be a cow or ten at the bottom of a valley because it’s open range.  Watching the FMC do the Benton Bumps was even more fun that doing them in my car.  Wow!

#708 on the Benton Bumps

When we got to the Hot Springs, I was feeling the pull of my parents.  They live just an hour and a half away in June Lake.  We had a discussion and decided to give in to my longing . . . Benton Hot Springs may be a really cool place but . . . We headed on into June Lake.

Wild Rose, June Lake, CA

We spent the first night in the June Lake campground (National Forest Service) and had dinner with my folks at the Tiger Bar.  They have AMAZING food and great atmosphere!

We went back to my mom’s and showered and did a quick load of laundry.  Nothing like clean underwear!

I think Ruth had a good birthday!

Day 29 -- Zion National Park to Alamo, NV

We packed up and headed out.  Greg had to get some work done and print some stuff out and ship it off to a client so we headed for the Kinko’s in St. George, UT.  I went to Target and got food organized for the next few days and the kids just hung out and played on their electronics.  Greg got his work done, we had lunch, and headed off to Nevada.

This leg was tricky.  We weren’t sure where we’d sleep and there aren’t a lot of choices out there.  We thought we had a campground picked out -- the pictures on the website looked good and they had good reviews so we headed off.  On the way to Alamo, NV, you drive through desert.  Lots and lots of desert.

When we got near Alamo, there was a Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge with several good sized lakes in it.  We were so surprised.  We noticed there were campsites, too but drove on knowing that it was hot and we’d prefer to have hookups to run the AC and cool things down.

shorebird at pahranagat national wildlife refuge

Well, the campground wasn’t bad but it wasn’t what we wanted, either.  We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and drove back to the lakes.  We camped there for free.  As we drove in, Greg and the kids spotted a Roadrunner -- it ran across the road and up into a Joshua Tree!  There were no hookups but the location and view more than made up for it.  We were right on the upper lake.

708 at Pahranagat

Gage playing!

Looking at the moon

There were birds and ducks everywhere.  We had a good dinner and then sat out by the lake watching the sunset.  The moon came up -- nearly full -- and Greg got the telescope out.  There was a nice cool breeze blowing across the lake which cooled everything down.  It was the perfect camping spot.

Sunset over Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

Day 28 - Zion National Park

Again, we had to move campsites.  This time, we got a site right along the river which was really lovely.  We got set up and then took off on our day trip.  We drove from Zion National Park to Bryce National Park.  The drive takes a couple of hours and is through beautiful Utah countryside -- high mountain valleys and charming small towns.

Galaxy Diner in Hatch, UT

We stopped for lunch at The Galaxy at Hatch -- a diner that promotes itself as having BIKERS, BURGERS, and BEDS.  The restaurant is new and they are opening a bike shop and a small motel on the same location.  The food was amazing and the people were so nice!

Millers at Bryce

Bryce Canyon is truly amazing -- we made a couple of stops and Greg and the kids hiked down into the hoodoos (formations) there.  I wasn’t up for anymore hikes but stayed topside and took a bunch of photos of a raven family.

Bryce Canyon

Hiking in Bryce

Trail at Bryce

Ravens over Bryce

Ravens over BryceTired, we headed back to camp and Greg took the kids to the river to swim and splash while I put leftovers together for dinner.

Day 27 - Zion National Park, UT

We got up early, had a good breakfast, packed up our belongings and went on one of the coolest hikes you can imagine.  As you drive up the Virgin River, the canyon gets more and more narrow and eventually becomes a slot canyon.  It’s about 30 feet wide at the bottom in some places, wider in others, and the solid rock cliffs tower above you nearly 1,000 feet.  The hike is up the river . . . In the river.

Virgin River flow

I don’t have pictures to show you because I don’t have a waterproof housing for my camera and wasn’t willing to risk it or my iPhone on this trip.

UT Zion - The Virgin River Narrows

To navigate this hike successfully, you need good hiking sandals or closed-toe shoes, dry bags (or at least good ziplocks!), and walking sticks.  As you hike up the river, you are fighting the current.  The conditions vary with the time of year and weather conditions but for us, the water was mostly mid-calf but there were a couple of spots were we swam for a bit.  Sometimes the water is thigh-high on me (so higher on Gage!) and you sort of have to help each other through.  You can’t see the floor of the river but it is covered with river rocks of various sizes so each footstep has to be carefully placed.  I only fell once!

Aquilegia chrysantha

Needless to say, we were exhausted when we got back to camp.  Greg and the kids hiked about a mile up and then turned around.  I’d stopped a bit earlier than that.  We all felt that we could have gone further but you have to get back, too.  It was probably the highlight of the trip for all of us.

Day 26 -- Mt. Carmel Junction, UT to Zion National Park, UT

American Bison near Zion

We hitched up in the morning and drove to Zion.  It is such a beautiful drive up the valley.  As you enter the park, you enter this amazing landscape of red rocks -- it reminds me of the eastern side of Yosemite except that instead of granite, it’s red sandstone.  They call the formations slickrock.  At one point, you get to a tunnel that is too small for modern motorhomes (even ones from the 70’s!).  It was built in the late 20’s and was, when it opened, the longest tunnel in the US.  Our motorhome is JUST too small for us to stay in our lane.  The park service has a system for the tunnel.  If you are in an oversized vehicle, you pay a $15 fee and they stop the traffic going the other way and just let one way traffic through so the large vehicles can go down the middle of the tunnel.  It’s pretty amazing.


When you come out of the tunnel, you are in the canyon at Zion and you work your way down to the canyon floor along the Virgin River.  It is so beautiful there.

Zion buses

We found our campsite and got set up and then went to the Visitor’s Center.  There is a bus that takes you to the remote areas of the park -- what a difference it makes to be out in the park and not have to deal with all the cars and parking issues.  As you travel up the canyon, the bus has a commentary with information about what you are seeing.  If you stay on the bus, you get an 80 minute ride, looking at some of the most beautiful scenery around.  We watched a movie about the park as well and then headed back to camp.

#708 in Zion NP

Day 25 -- Monument Valley, UT to Mt. Carmel Junction, UT

We got up early and hit the road.  The drive took us out of Utah and into Arizona and back into Utah again.  We had lunch in the town of Kanab, UT at a great Mexican place called Escobar’s.  (We liked it so much that we drove back there for dinner!).  We camped out the Junction at a little roadside campground.  We had full hookups and got to use the pool at the Best Western across the highway.  It was really nice and peaceful there.

#708 at Mt Carmel Junction, UT

Day 24 - Monument Valley, UT

The Millers at Monument Valley

Monument Valley is a Navajo park.  We drove out and paid our fee to get in.  You drive a 17 mile loop through the monuments on rough, dirt road.  We were ready in our Suzuki but did enjoy seeing a Cadillac sedan making the drive as well -- hope he made it!  Monument Valley is such a special place -- the monuments themselves are so beautiful and striking as they rise up out of the valley floor.  At every vista point, there are Navajo artists selling their wares -- mostly jewelry.  We bought a few things!

Monument ValleyWe had lunch and a brief siesta back at camp and then headed off for another drive.  We drove to Navajo National Monument -- another site of ancient pueblo people.  We stopped in the nearby town and got a new fuel filter for the motorhome.  We hiked a trail at Navajo where we could see one of the ruins, Betatakin.

Ruth and Greg hiking at Navajo National MonumentWhen we got back to camp, Greg changed the fuel filter in the FMC and then he and the kids went swimming again.  We had another thunderstorm -- this one pelted rain at Greg while he was working on the FMC.

Sunset at Monument Valley, UT

Day 23 -- Durango, CO to Monument Valley, CO

Back into the desert!  We packed up and headed off to drive back into the desert.  We took our own sweet time leaving Durango.  We washed the motorhome and my car and ran a bunch of errands (none of which panned out for us!).

Ruthie at Four Corners Gage at Four Corners

Our first stop was Four Corners -- it was hot and dry out there.  We parked the motorhome and went to take the obligatory photos of the kids standing in four states at once.  Then we shopped!  Gage bought a really cool Navajo arrow.  The artist spent some time talking to him about it and let him pick out the stone point to put in it.  Ruth got a bracelet and a necklace and I got a couple of pairs of earrings. We also got some delicious Navajo Fry Bread -- yum!

Lights over Monument Valley

The rest of the drive was beautiful as Greg found a scenic byway to get us there.  It was hot and there were some pretty good hills but we arrived at Monument Valley just as the clouds gathered and started spewing thunder and lightening.  We decided to stay at the private campground which is tucked into a valley between two huge sandstone monuments.   The kids and Greg went swimming while I made dinner.

#708 at Monument Valley

Day 22 -- Durango, CO

We got up early and drove the road to Silverton.  It travels alongside the railroad for part of the trip but goes much higher for much longer as you go along.  Silverton was getting ready for it’s Fourth of July parade -- reminded us of Boulder Creek and made us a little bit homesick.  We couldn’t really park and shop so we got gas and headed off to our next destination, Ouray, CO.

Ouray, CO

Ouray is seperated from Silverton by a really intense mountain pass.  We got up over 11,100 feet which was exciting.  This drive is why we call our blog The Journey is the Thing -- the drive was the destination in many ways!  Especially since, we got buzzed by 4 airforce jets as we were entering the canyon above Ouray.  They were low and zipping through the canyon sideways.  That would be exciting if you were at an air show and expecting it but we were driving on a high, mountain road with no guard rails and big drop-offs next to us.  Greg handled it fine but the car in front of us had to pull over and calm down for a few minutes after they passed us by.  I think they had buzzed the Silverton parade and were going to do the same in Ouray.  It was very cool.

The road between Silverton and Ouray

Ouray is my new favorite town.  It’s in this steep canyon with amazing red cliffs all around it.  It’s a little mining town with all kinds of charm.  We had lunch at the Billy Goat Gruff biergarten which was perfect -- sausage bites, pretzels, and good beer (for Greg and I!).  Greg was excited about the Elks Lodge BBQ as well so when he was finished, he walked across the street and got some beef ribs.  We joined him when we were done.

Millers at Ouray, CO's biergarten

He was sharing a table with a really nice couple who had grown up in Ouray and were back for the class of 1961 High School Reunion.  They talked to us about life in Ouray and Silverton and what it was like to work in the mines.  We really enjoyed chatting with them.

We had to make a decision then about whether or not to go back to Durango now or to press on and continue our drive.  We had thought about going out to see Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park -- our new friends assured us it was worth the trip so we headed off.

The kids at Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a deep canyon carved by the Gunnison River.  Like the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde, you approach it from above.  There are amazing views down into the canyon.  We stopped at the first overlook and were amazed by a Golden Eagle flying over us, playing in the wind, soaring and floating above us.  Amazing.

Golden Eagle over Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Greg and Gage walked the 1/2 mile to the visitor’s center.  Ruth and I drove.  We learned a bit about the canyon and drove out to the most spectacular overlook -- Dragon’s Cliff.  You can see the image of two Asian style dragons in this huge cliff.  It’s the highest cliff in the state of Colorado at 2200+ feet.  Gage suddenly got over his fear of heights and spent the whole time staring over the edge trying to point things out to me -- who was turning green from the height.  :)

The road between Silverton and Ouray

The rain found us at Gunnison -- and we drove back to Ouray in a thunderstorm.  The clouds were starting to clear as we drove over the pass to Silverton (thank goodness!).  We ate at the Silverton Brewery and headed back to Durango.  We stopped briefly at camp and then headed back into Durango to watch the fireworks.  It was a great show and a great end to our trip!

Gage enjoying the drive from Silverton to Ouray, CO

Our evening ended quietly enough.  We put the kids to bed in their tent and settled in for a little computer time before bed.  After a little while, someone knocked at the door.  It was a rather frightened man who was telling us that there was a bear in the campground.  They had returned to their site after watching the fireworks to see their neighbors chasing a bear out of their site.  We got the kids inside the motorhome and got flashlights to see what we could see.  The bear had fled immediately when the people got back and hadn’t gotten into their cooler.  Still the folks in Durango are not used to dealing with bears.  Between our camping time in Sequoia National Park and listening to my parents talk about the bears in June Lake, I knew a lot more about the bears than the locals.  All the tent campers abandoned ship for the night and went either to cabins or to nearby motels.  The bear was skulking around in the bushes hoping we’d all go to bed so it could continue to forage in the coolers.  I got a good look at it as it entered an empty campsite -- it was a decent sized bear -- a little taller than the picnic table as it shuffled by on all fours.  While no one was doing the pot-banging, car horn honking racket that are sure to drive a bear away, the bear finally gave up and headed up the hill, back into the wilderness where it belonged.  Our kids opted to sleep in the tent still.  We gave them pots and spoons so if they heard anything they could make a huge racket.  The bear didn’t seem to come back or didn’t bother our kids at any rate!  What a day!